Former Coca-Cola Co. executive Pierre Ferrari now spends his days ensuring that a pig or a goat helps an impoverished family.
In 2010, Ferrari became chief executive officer of Heifer International, a Little Rock, Arkansas, nonprofit that provides poor people worldwide with livestock, education and veterinary care.
He has been trying to expand the mission to new countries, such as Myanmar, and increase an annual budget of $125 million that is covered mainly by holiday-gift donations in December.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has given more than $50 million to a Heifer program that shows East African dairy farmers how to boost milk production. Ferrari would like even more.
Growing up in the Belgian Congo and Kenya, Ferrari saw stark poverty. He studied at Cambridge University as an undergraduate and earned an MBA at Harvard.
He spoke about Heifer’s agenda during a visit to Bloomberg world headquarters in New York.
Cole: Who started Heifer?
Ferrari: An Indiana dairy farmer named Dan West who belonged to the Church of the Brethren. He was in Spain during the Civil War, and he had this epiphany and said, “These people don’t need a glass of milk. They need a heifer.” He went back to Indiana and organized a number of dairy farmers to ship heifers all over the world.
Cole: What other assistance do you give?
Ferrari: The key to what we do is train. If you think about a very poor farming household in remote areas, their animal-husbandry practices are quite often primitive. The animals need better nutrition and veterinary services.
Cole: You’re traveling to Haiti this month with former President Bill Clinton. How did you connect with him?
Ferrari: We had a meeting in Arkansas around the Club de Madrid, with all the ex-prime ministers. I was the keynote speaker and Bill Clinton spoke after me, and he started riffing about Heifer.
I had the ex-president of the United States exclusively spending time on Heifer for 15 minutes! So I buttonholed him and said, “We’ve got to meet.”
Cole: Will you travel with him?
Ferrari: He’s the ex-president of the United States, and he often travels by helicopter. I travel by rickety car. Still, we’ll talk about significant issues when we’re down there. We need policy changes on the part of the government.
Cole: What’s your biggest need in Haiti?
Ferrari: We need a clean abattoir to process goat meat for local consumption, and if there’s excess, for export. Haitian goats are prized across the Caribbean.
Cole: How do you get farmers to produce more in Haiti or any of the other countries you work in?
Ferrari: What you’re trying to change is viewing their animals as a business, as an opportunity for income flow. That’s more radical than you think. They basically want to keep them alive and have the little bit of milk they can get out of it.
We tell them they can do both. You need to show them that the cow’s productivity can be improved with good feed and improving the quality of the milk.
Cole: What’s the biggest challenge for hunger-related nonprofits like yours around the world?
Ferrari: There are a lot of good programs out there, but they are too small. There are 2 billion undernourished people in the world, and 25,000 kids under age 5 die every day of malnutrition causes.
Most of them die because their immune system is compromised. The mortality rate is very high at the beginning of life. That’s the harsh reality for billions of people.
(Patrick Cole is a reporter for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own. This interview was adapted from a longer conversation.)
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